I don’t like the beach in the summer, but I do read a lot. So these books aren’t “beach reads,” exactly, but they are what I’ve been devouring this summer. The stack of possibilities far exceeds the number of weeks in the summer, but sigh… isn’t that how it always is?
I began the summer by going back to a book that always grounds me both as historian and as a reader, and one which I often read to kick off the summer – Connie Willis’s delightfully witty To Say Nothing of the Dog. Those time-traveling 21st century London historians are such endearing characters – Mr. Dunworthy reminds me of Peter Firth’s masterfully understated performance as Sir Harry Pearce in MI-5. I especially wanted to go back to Willis’s earlier books, because my dad made me a gift of her newer 2-volume World War II masterpiece, Blackout and All Clear and I wanted to savor the experience. We have also been slowly working our way through the TV series Foyle’s War on Netflix… see a theme here? This must be the unfulfilled longing of a frustrated British historian, apparently, that I escape there in books as soon as the semester ends. Anyway. So I revisited Doomsday Book as well, since some of the characters carry over into the World War II books. Lovely, lovely read, all of them. I love her blend of wit, time travel, historical fiction and science fiction. She’s a genius when it comes to plotting out a novel. I hated to finish All Clear, but managed it with a handkerchief and an all-nighter.
From there, I dipped into some classics, but short ones (both on Kindle for iPhone): Austen’s Northanger Abbey, and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (yes, eagerly anticipating the Baz Luhrman adaptation coming later this fall). E. B. White’s Farewell to the Model T was a slim bound book, a love letter to the quirks of that fine machine (and in a way, another perspective on the 1920s from Fitzgerald). Then I was browsing that charming local bookstore in downtown Northhampton MA (Broadside Books) and Mike Brown’s book How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming caught my eye and I really enjoyed it – he’s almost a Bill Bryson of the astrophysics world and the book was terrific; also my older teens liked it as an airplane book later in the summer. I like to attempt something off my mental list of books I should have read but haven’t (I’m not sharing that list with the world; probably I’d like to keep it under my hat which books I’ve never actually picked up) – this summer it’s Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (40 years old this year!). Of course I know ABOUT the book and why it’s important, but hadn’t actually read it cover to cover. I’m amazed at how forthright and brave it was for 1962.
Lastly, I’ve gotten somewhat grim in my reading tastes as the summer has waxed. I took my time reading John Irving, The Cider House Rules, which is terribly dark and yet hopeful at the same time. A long, knotty, thorny, icy novel. And now I’m partway through Michael Willrich, Pox, which deftly weaves urban history, medical history and legal history – I may use it in my history of medicine class next spring.
So those are my just-because pleasure reading books this summer; what’s in your bookbag?